Bits 101: Western Snaffle Basics

Photo by eXtensionHorses

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Friday’s article kicked off the new Bits 101 series with a discussion on the most common mouth pieces in bits. Today we pick up with a discussion of snaffles, the staple of every tack room.

There are four basic kinds of snaffles that you will encounter in most tack shops: the loose O-ring, the eggbutt, the D-ring, and the full cheek.

Loose O-Ring Snaffle

loose O-ring snaffle bit


The loose O-ring is a very soft snaffle that has a lot of give. The mouthpiece is not fixed to the rings, but rather retains the ability to slide along the ring. This allows the horse more flexibility to carry the bit comfortably.

However, it also has its drawbacks. The sliding action of the mouthpiece along the ring creates the potential for pinching the corners of the mouth. This can be solved for most horses by using rubber bit guards. But some horses still do not appreciate the lack of stability. This instability also makes bit not as effective for teaching contact and collection in the beginning stages. For this reason, I personally save this bit for later in the training process when the horse is ready to be ridden on a looser rein.

Eggbutt Snaffle

eggbutt snaffle bit


The eggbutt is a much better choice for teaching contact and collection. The fixed rings provide the stability that the loose O-ring lacks. The eggbutt shape allows for firm contact and clear communication through the reins.

The problem of pinching the corners of the mouth is solved with the fixed rings. Horses that like the freedom of the loose O-ring may not like the eggbutt as it does sacrifice flexibility for stability.

Western D-Ring Snaffle

d-ring snaffle bit


The western d-ring is basically just an O-ring with fixed rings instead of loose rings.

This bit falls somewhere in between the loose O-ring and the eggbutt. It has the stability of the eggbutt as they share the fixed ring design. But it also has a little more flexible feel of the O-ring given the larger rings that mimic those of the loose O-ring.

This is my personal favorite. A lot of horses like it and it is very versatile. I like having a little bit more stability than a loose O-ring, so this is the bit I use for saddle breaking and basic foundation training before I switch to the eggbutt for beginning contact and collection. This is also the bit I switch back to once the horse is going well in contact and starting to pick up on collection.

Full Cheek Snaffle

full cheek snaffle bit


I don’t like this bit at all and view it as a last resort. It is very stiff and doesn’t have any give. This is a bit that I reserve for young or sour horses who have a habit of pulling the bit through their mouth. I prefer to address the problem through training first, but sometimes a full cheek becomes necessary to break the habit until the horse learns that he cannot pull the snaffle through his mouth.

This bit also comes in the half cheek version. The half cheek has a little more flexibility, but I still find it stiff and awkward.

A show horse should not need this bit for more than a few weeks. If he cannot be broken of the habit of pulling the bit through the mouth and switched to a standard snaffle within a few weeks then he either need a different trainer or a different job that he actually enjoys and doesn’t resist doing.

The only time I condone the long-term use of this bit is on a trail horse with a history of pulling the bit through the mouth but has been broken of the habit. If, in this instance, the rider wishes to use one as a precaution when riding in unfamiliar situations, I find that acceptable, even advisable.

Choose What Works Best for You and Your Horse

This is all just a guide from my own experience and opinions. You should choose what works best for you and your horse. You should also keep in mind show rules if you are planning on showing you horse. Always check the rule book before changing you bit so you don’t find yourself stuck with a bit that will disqualify you on competition day.

All of these snaffle types can be found with virtually every mouth piece imaginable, so there is something out there for everyone.

Also note that a bit should not be viewed as a replacement for training. If you are having behavior problems with your horse, check that your bit is not causing him pain, but do not automatically assume that a bigger, fancier bit will be the cure.

A new bit is never a replacement for good training. But good training is easier with a good bit. Click To Tweet

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Still to come in our Bits 101 series: Leverage Bit Basics, The Bitless “Revolution”, 10 Common Bit Myths Busted, and “Specialty” Bits.

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